December 20, 2011
Mark Steyn Whacks-a-NewtBy J. Robert Smith
National Review editors have rolled out their big gun, Mark Steyn, to take whacks at the much-whacked Newt Gingrich. Steyn's article was featured at Monday's National Review Online under the banner: "Big-Government Newt."
Steyn spends four pages slicing and dicing the eminently sliceable and diceable former U.S. House speaker. But aside from Steyn's always enjoyable trenchant humor, there's really not a lot of there there in the article. By that is meant nothing groundbreaking on Gingrich. The article is a laundry-list recapitulation of the "Many Foibles of Newt." Newt is contradictory, we learn yet again -- here are the examples, mostly recycled, though Steyn does throw in a couple of novel takes, including Newt's space mirrors offering.
At this point, though, what does Steyn's article accomplish that dozens of other articles haven't already accomplished at other journals across the spectrum? Newt the Flake; Newt the Philanderer; New the Big, Goofy Ideas Guy; Newt the Unpredictable; Newt the K Street Maven...Newt, Newt, Newt.
What Steyn's article accomplishes is that National Review brings Steyn's well-earned and considerable heft into the Stop Newt boomlet. Steyn's writing and reasoning are also a heckuva lot more engaging then the hackery served up by NR editors last Wednesday, when they cut up Gingrich in the petty style so often seen among the D.C. and New York smart set.
It's all well and good to stop Newt -- or Mitt. But with three weeks to go to the Iowa Caucus, it actually may be more profitable to read exactly who conservative opinion-shapers think should be the GOP nominee. After all, there's not exactly an inexhaustible supply of Republican presidential candidates. Right now, the contest boils down to Romney or Gingrich (Ron Paul is a gadfly, not a contender).
It would be heartening to have Rick Perry suddenly speak in tongue (the English tongue), fluently and well. Perry's accomplishments as Texas governor have unfortunately been obscured by a few pretty awful debate performances. In a year when conservatives want to counter President Obama's articulation with a candidate who not only is articulate, but also has the capacity for framing the debate and carrying the argument, Perry simply isn't making the grade.
Michele Bachmann is a solid conservative (though Steyn takes a shot at her). Rick Santorum is a strong conservative, too, though there's residual resentment toward Santorum for his endorsement of Arlen Specter's reelection over Pat Toomey's insurgent senate campaign back in 2004. Both Perry and Bachmann have had their moments as the Anti-Mitt candidates. It's possible, but not probable, that one or the other will regain traction in the next few weeks and rise to the top again. But don't hold your breath.
What about Jon Huntsman as the dark horse in the GOP field? What about Huntsman? NR editors did inch in the direction of endorsing Huntsman by advising readers to look seriously at his candidacy. One supposes that NR editors thought that they were being clever or coy in not laying their cards on the table. Perhaps they're just timid.
NR contributor Andrew McCarthy took his editors to task for even suggesting a GOP candidate to support, arguing that National Review's mission is to analyze, educate, and shape opinion, not decide outcomes -- or words to that affect. But it's worth differing with McCarthy here. Conservatives get plenty of indirection and masking of biases from the mainstream media. If NR editors want Huntsman (no Reagan, he), then say so, straight-out. Conservatives don't want clever, coy, or timid.
So, if the choice is Newt or Mitt, which one, Mark Steyn? No Baskin Robbins' choices now, or so it appears. We're down to chocolate or vanilla (decidedly Mitt's flavor). We gotta have a choice; after all, that's the result of the presidential nominating process. All the yammering, arguing, glib appraisals, sniping, zinging, and tankers full of virtual ink -- the whole ball of wax -- is aimed at something more than yammering, arguing, glib appraisals, sniping, zinging, and producing tankers full of virtual ink. Or did I miss the memo?
If in three weeks the choice remains Newt or Mitt, then one or the other is very likely to be crowned the party's nominee, by virtue of a highly compacted primary schedule (and barring some anomaly). That stinks for Rick, Rick, Michele, and Jon the Lesser Rockefeller, but it is what it is.
Here's my nickel's worth. Between Newt and Mitt, I'll cast my lot with Newt -- not without reservations, mind you. I'd much prefer the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan (or Calvin Coolidge), but it's not happening.
Call it counterintuitive, but Gingrich has two things going for him not much appreciated. One is that deep down in Gingrich's compromised self is still the instincts of a revolutionary. A revolution away from big government is what the nation needs.
Gingrich began his political career in the 1970s challenging the then-powerful Georgia Democratic establishment. Gingrich won his congressional seat in west Georgia after two hard fights with an entrenched incumbent. House backbencher Gingrich challenged then-GOP Minority Leader Bob Michael to act like a leader (even if he wasn't one). Michael seemed to care more about his golf dates than fighting the Democrats. Gingrich's Conservative Opportunity Society was an effort to challenge the longstanding (and still prevalent) Liberal Welfare State.
Gingrich led -- and was often alone in -- the fight to oust the shady Jim Wright as speaker of House. Gingrich succeeded.
Gingrich's minority leadership -- including Vin Weber, Dick Armey, and Bob Walker -- drove the GOP to its first U.S. House majority since the 1950s, doing so with a contrasting campaign that gave voters a real choice. And Gingrich's American Solutions venture was a tamer approach at making revolution.
The other consideration with Gingrich is legacy. Yes, legacy is a bloated term, and it is applied to dog catchers and bad presidents alike. But let's strip the word of its pretense. Should Gingrich win the presidency, he'll be sixty-nine years old and better than halfway to seventy when he's sworn in. For all anyone knows, Gingrich's last years could be spent in the presidency. What does Gingrich leave behind him?
It's doubtful that Gingrich the Deep-Down Revolutionary wants to build a bigger, better welfare state. That runs contrary to much of Gingrich's history of challenging the status quo. Gingrich's knowledge of history is that great men don't go along to get along; they often tackle the prevailing wisdom and seek significant departures. More big governmentism would make President Gingrich a one-of-the-crowd guy.
It's that convergence among Gingrich's instinctive desire to be a change agent, his sense of history, and his presumed desire to substantively matter as president that pushes me to choose Gingrich over Romney. It's important to add that whoever the Republican nominee is, that person's electoral fortunes will greatly depend on the economy's health. A bad economy -- and it's not getting better -- markedly improves the GOP nominee's election chances, Gingrich's included.
Could my estimation of Gingrich be wrong? You bet. Unlike any other presidential election year in memory, 2012 will be something of a game of craps for GOP voters. But choose Republican voters must. Gingrich is the gamble to take.
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